Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Review

3 Sep

I remember way back in 2007 going to see the movie Ghost Rider when it first came out. I didn’t know anything about the character, but the fact that it was a Marvel movie and featured a hero with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle seemed pretty cool. The fact is is that the character of Ghost Rider is really cool, but the movie was all around unmemorable. Since I first saw it 8 years ago, I’ve finally gone back and given it another go having not remembered any of it. I also decided to check out the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance directed by Neveldine/Taylor, who directed the two Crank films and Gamer. My conclusion is that these two Ghost Rider movies should come with directions that say, “Turn off your brain, and add alcohol.”

Let’s take a trip back to 2007 with the first Ghost Rider.

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When Johnny Blaze was a teenager, he sold his soul to the devil, or Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), in order to save his father dying from lung cancer. The devil cured his father, but he still ended up dying by the devil’s will. Now and adult, Johnny (Nicolas Cage) works as the world’s most renowned stunt rider. Even with all of the fame and fortune, Johnny can’t get the pact he made with the devil out of his mind, and isn’t surprised when he shows up once again commanding Johnny to hunt down his son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and send him back to hell. Now given the powers of the Ghost Rider, Johnny begins his hunt. When Blackheart makes it personal by kidnapping Johnny’s childhood love Roxanne (Eva Mendez) and threatens to unleash thousands of demonic souls on the world, the Ghost Rider is forced to ride like hell to complete his mission.

Let me just get a very unpleasant fact out of the way. Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson who was also the writer and director the Marvel flop that was Daredevil. Now that’s pretty bad news, and Johnson didn’t seem to really get it together for Ghost Rider. I’d even go so far as to say Daredevil is more memorable, which is an odd thought. Watching the movie again reminded me why it was so unmemorable. There’s not really a whole lot of action, and the down time which seems to stretch on and on isn’t anything interesting. The screenplay seemed desperate to make Johnny Blaze into a relatable character, but he’s really not very deep at all. This probably adds to why all of the dialogue sounds either forced or said without much feeling, and that goes for everyone in the movie.

Like I said before though, the Ghost Rider is a really cool character which gives the action scenes a good kick. One particularly cool scene has the Rider using his chain to latch onto a building and ride right down the side of it. Unfortunately, Blackheart as a villain isn’t that exciting at all and Wes Bentley’s version of hamming things up doesn’t really work. The bottom line is that this movie really isn’t good, and I can’t even say it’s so bad that it’s good. All I saw was a cool anti-hero thrown into a movie with a lot of useless talk, bland characters, and a few action scenes spaced too far apart. A movie based on a comic book character really just shouldn’t be this boring.

Five years later in 2012 a sequel was put out called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s a sequel that we really didn’t need, nor did people seem to want it. Nevertheless, being directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor made me curious to see how they could inject their hyperactive style to this character.

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Some years after the events of the first film, Johnny Blaze is hiding out in a secluded area of Eastern Europe. This is the only way he knows how to control the monster inside him that turns him into the Ghost Rider. His seclusion is disturbed when he is found by a priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) who pleads with him to find a young boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido). The two are being hunted by Nadya’s ex-boyfriend Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who was hired by the devil (now played by Ciarán Hinds) to deliver the boy for a prophesied ritual. In return, Moreau promises to rid Johnny of his curse, which is all the motivation he needs to find the mother and son before they fall into evil’s grip.

This movie has been panned by critics and audiences alike in an overwhelming way, which, despite my curiosity, made me hesitant to watch it. Now, I may be committing some kind of sin against movie criticism by saying this, and I apologize in advance, but Spirit of Vengeance is far superior to the original. In fact… I sorta…kinda…liked this one. I’ve heard numerous complaints about the story, the effects, and the acting so I’ll just address them one by one. The story is very straightforward and most certainly unoriginal, but it’s at least functional (unlike a certain Marvel film that came out this year). The effects are what I expected from Neveldine/Taylor. They’re way over the top and almost cartoonish, which is the kind of effects and editing I saw in the Crank movies and Gamer. Finally, the acting is also serviceable, and there’s even a few great scenes of Nicolas Cage going absolutely nuts.

I understand that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s one thing, but I don’t really understand why it’s hated so much. There’s more action sequences in this movie, and all of them play out like their fueled by an insane combination of cocaine, LSD, and rage. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s anarchic and almost nonsensical editing style also give the movie a jolt that moves it along much faster than the original, which in turn makes the movie much more entertaining. Being released by the Marvel Knights production company, the same company that did The Punisher: War Zone, the budget is relatively small and the material is darker than most Marvel films. That being said, this movie is just so much damn fun.

Even though the Ghost Rider is a unique and unusually awesome Marvel character, he hasn’t really gotten the big budget treatment that he deserves. The first movie is stuck in the mud, and the second movie is pretty much ignored. Personally, I could do without the first one, but I embrace Spirit of Vengeance, and I’m not ashamed of who knows it… Maybe just a little.

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